Author: Margaret Mitchell
Challenges: Reading the Twentieth Century and The Classics Club
Starting before The American Civil War Gone with the Wind is an epic novel spanning the war and the years following it. The entire novel focuses on Scarlett O’Hara, who begins as a vain and incredibly self obsessed sixteen year old and ends the novel as a slightly less vain and self obsessed woman in her late twenties. I say ‘slightly less’ as these (along with money hungry) are probably some of the best adjectives to describe Scarlett. That being said she is also fierce, strong willed and absolutely determined to succeed at everything she wants and this is what she does. Along the way she faces many hardships, especially as the defeat of the Confederate Army brings about the loss of the world she grew up in; a world where old families on their plantations ruled the South and women were brought up to be ladies. She sees those she grew up with killed fighting for a cause she cares very little for, she loses those she cares about, buries two husbands and recklessly ruins her relationship with the third, she is dirt poor, starving and has to defend her family home from Yankees. She becomes a business woman, much to the disgust of the families she grew up with. She realises that maybe lusting after and wasting her life wishing for a man she can never have may have jepordised her chance for real love and this is probably one of the hardest things for her to learn.
I’m not going to pretend that my thoughts are going to bring about some wonderful new insight into this enormous novel or that I am going to offer anything profoundly interesting to say, but I am going to type up my jumbled thoughts and my own experience of reading Gone with the Wind. I feel as though I started this novel in a different lifetime; I bought it in Australia and began reading it on the plane home. Since then I have returned to work, restarted yoga and the gym, attended a hen party and a wedding, been on a mini trip to Cornwall and grown a year older (*sob*) so you can see how my thoughts might be a tad mixed up.
Before starting Gone with the Wind I knew very little about it: I knew about Scarlett O’Hara; the setting of the American South; the ‘frankly my dear I don’t give a damn’ film line. That’s it. My knowledge of America during this time period is also very limited so it was very interesting to learn more about this period in American history and how Atlanta and the neighbouring area coped with such a tumultuous time and all the changes this brought about.
I did really enjoy Gone with the Wind and I was so keen to finish it. I loved Scarlett as a character as she is so strong minded and determined to get what she wants. There were times when she frustrated me, when she couldn’t see the good in people or accept that some people (Ashley) just aren’t going to change or live up to the ideal you have in your head. And there were times when her behaviour was to be admired, such as when she refused to lose her childhood home, Tara to the Yankees. Scarlett is certainly a formidable woman and I love how she was willing to break with conventions regardless of what other people thought. This would have been truly shocking for a woman in the 1860s and I loved how she just didn’t care.
My limited prior knowledge of Gone with the Wind did go as far as knowing that Rhett Butler is one of Scarlett’s love interests. Therefore I was expecting some sweeping romance and a happy ever after. How wrong was I? Rhett is a perfect hero as he is a bit of a scoundrel but he isn’t afraid to call Scarlett out on her behaviour and to put her in her place. He also won’t stand for any of her nonsense or any nonsense from the people around him. I can’t believe how long the build up to their relationship was but it was clear throughout that something about Scarlett kept drawing Rhett back to her. As mentioned their romance does not have the typical happy ever after we expect. In fact Rhett leaves Scarlett just as she realises how much he means to her, thus leaving the reader in a somewhat ambiguous position as to what truly happens to Scarlett in the end. I have no doubts that Scarlett gets her way in the end and rekindles her relationship with Rhett, but the unclear ending is frustrating.
Overall, despite the fact it took me forever to read I really enjoyed Gone with the Wind and I can see it will be a book I return to in a few years time and one I am sure you discover new things about each time you re read it. I think I would like to read around this novel before a reread as I am sure there is so much I have missed.